Northern Kentucky couldn’t make it to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments last year, but that didn’t mean the Norse were a flash-in-the-pan. The program won its first Division I regular season conference title in 2017-18, locking up the Horizon League with a 15-3 record.
Keeping those good times rolling, however, won’t be easy next year.
While star forward Drew McDonald (17.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg) is back for his senior year, the Norse have to replace point guard Lavone Holland (13.8 ppg, 4.4 apg). The departing senior was a steady presence over his three seasons at NKU, starting 86 games and racking up the accolades, like second team All-Horizon in 2017-18 and league tournament MVP the year before.
Holland’s replacement may have arrived on Thursday, as the program announced it had signed Norfolk State graduate transfer Zaynah Robinson. It would seem like the perfect fit, as Robinson rarely left the court during his most recent season (35.6 mpg), and was a high-impact point guard (13.5 ppg, 4.5-1.7 assist/TO) for a 17-win team.
The one potential problem? That was in 2016-17, as Robinson missed all of last season with a back injury. His former coach, Robert Jones, didn’t sound optimistic about his health when Robinson announced his transfer in May.
Robinson, a 5-foot-11 Atlanta native who missed all of last season when a chronic back condition flared up, is a kinesiotherapy major scheduled to graduate in May. NSU doesn’t have a grad program in his field of study, and coach Robert Jones said the school couldn’t find a comparable option that would keep Robinson on campus.
Robinson is still treating the back condition, so there’s no guarantee he could even help the Spartans if he stayed.
“He doesn’t want to leave, and I don’t want him to leave,” Jones said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for your future, especially when your future might not include basketball.”
The injury didn’t stop Robinson from being a commodity on the grad transfer market, as the seasoned guard drew interest from Missouri State and North Dakota, in addition to NKU. And his current coach likes what he added at a position with minutes available after Holland’s backup, rising junior Mason Faulkner, transferred.
“We are very excited about adding Zaynah to our family here at NKU,” Brannen said. “‘Z’ will provide much needed experience to our team in 2018-19.”
Following Lavone Holland II’s graduation and Faulkner’s release, the starting point guard role seems primed for Robinson to potentially make an instant impact.
For his sake, here’s tp hoping that Robinson can stay healthy and spend his final season of eligibility on the court. If this happen, then Northern Kentucky will be a program that the Horizon should be watching closely.
What NKU has done since joining the league in 2015 — making an NCAA Tournament and winning a league title — is nothing short of a best-case scenario for the conference on the whole. Maintaining that momentum — and capitalizing on McDonald’s final year — makes a stronger case that NKU has the program-level potential the Horizon needs with Valparaiso off in the Missouri Valley.